11 Feb 2013

Nick Clegg refuses to apologise for Chris Huhne

As Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg hits the campaign trail in Eastleigh, the former seat of the disgraced MP Chris Huhne, he refuses to say sorry to voters for Mr Huhne’s behaviour.

Touring Eastleigh today, Mr Clegg was confident that his party would win the hotly contested by-election, despite the recent downfall of Mr Huhne, who held the seat for the Lib Dems at the 2010 general election with a majority of 3,864 votes.

Yet when questioned by Channel 4 News Political Correspondent Michael Crick about his former colleague, the Lib Dem leader was less forthcoming.

Mr Clegg would not agree that it was his duty to say sorry for Mr Huhne, who awaits sentence for perverting the course of justice.

After repeated questioning, Mr Clegg told Channel 4 News: “Chris Huhne needs to speak for himself. My duty is to make sure that the people of Eastleigh are not without an MP in Westminster for too long.”

However, Mr Clegg added: “Whatever anyone may think of Chris Huhne, everybody will tell you locally he was an extremely good local MP.”

Turning the conversation back to the matter at hand, the deputy prime minister said: “I am confident we will keep hold of this seat but not because I say so but because the people of Eastleigh are telling us that.

“We need to be quite clear where our differences lie (with the Conservatives), it’s Liberal Democrats that have lowered council tax in Eastleigh, it is Liberal Democrats that are protecting the green spaces.”

Mr Clegg said that the campaign would not be dirty and that his party would make its differences with the Tories clear but still be able to govern together.

Chris Huhne needs to speak for himself. My duty is to make sure that the people of Eastleigh are not without an MP in Westminster for too long. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, UKIP named their candidate to fight the election on 28 February.

Diane James is a Waverley borough councillor in Surrey and a healthcare expert She joined UKIP in 2010 but is listed as an independent councillor on the council’s website.

Labour was also active in Eastleigh with Southampton Itchen MP John Denham calling for the Ford Transit van plant nearby to be turned into a new hi-tech, hi-skill technology park with well-paid jobs when production ceases.

“Eastleigh voters – and people all over the area – want to hear clear commitments from government ministers before the by-election is over,” he said.

“Despite the hand wringing over the Ford closure we have not yet had any real action from the government. The by-election gives us all a chance to wring promises from visiting ministers.”

Labour are expected to name their candidate tomorrow.

Communities and Local Government Minister Eric Pickles was campaigning for the Tories in the constituency today and Prime Minister David Cameron is expected in Eastleigh later this week.